PFL 1: Denis Goltsov Survives Early Adversity, TKOs Exhausted Linton Vassell in Third Round

Denis Goltsov, PFL 1 2024
Denis Goltsov, 2024 PFL 1: San Antonio Ceremonial Weigh-Ins at the Boeing Center at Tech Port in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

PFL 2023 heavyweight finalist Denis Goltsov faced would-be Bellator title challenger Linton Vassell in the co-main event of PFL’s first regular season event of 2024.

The Brit, Vassell, had won five straight Bellator fights, mostly with his elite top game, and earned a shot at champion Ryan Bader. However, when PFL acquired Bellator he chose to compete in the season format and chase the million dollar prize. His Russian foe, a protege of Fedor Emilianenko, had been with PFL since the inception of the season fornat, getting into the playoffs in three of four years but never winning the ultimate prize. Only one man could start hot in the first of their two regular season fights, and when the dust settled it was Goltsov who came away with the points.

Vassell opened with leg kicks before shooting and landing a double leg takedown easily, despite his foe being a former Combat Sambo champion. Linton passed to half-guard and smushed Denis’ head into the cage wall. He could not pass to his favorite position, full mount, but did get Goltsov away from the side of the cage, limiting his stand-up options. With thirty seconds left in the round he did finally get into full mount and began to rain down strikes. It seemed as though the fight might be over, but Goltsov exploded and got on top. It was only for a moment before he got reversed, but it got him to the end of the round.

Down at least 10-9 after one frame, Goltsov came out aggressive and took down Linton with an inside trip against the cage. Vassell stayed seated upright and wrestled up on a single leg, taking Goltsov down once more. However, Denis swept him once more, got on top, and worked to take Vassell’s back. He could not get hooks in, but did slam home harder and harder punches from the back on an increasingly haggard-looking Linton Vassell until the horn; the referee even seemed to consider stopping the fight.

Though the fight was tied at one round apiece, Linton seemed to be entirely out of gas and got taken down right away in round three. Goltsov once again rode the back and punched away while the referee warned Vassell that he had to fight back. Finally, after three minutes of ground punching in the final round alone, the ref stopped the fight.

He faced some adversity and did not get the maximum possible points, but Goltsov’s four-point performance put him in third place in the PFL heavyweight standings, with one fight left to take place in the card.

Official Result: Denis Goltsov def. Linton Vassell by TKO (ground and pound), Round 3, 3:11